Over on twitter, my friend Mark Safranski and I have been having a conversation regarding school reform. Diane Ravitch, and the role of science in public policy.
Diane Ravitch is a historian. Being a historian, she has never published any scientific work. But she knows just enough science to be dangerous. Take for instance this line, which she seems to actually think is relevant:
Guggenheim [the directory of Waiting for “Superman”]seems to believe that teachers alone can overcome the effects of student poverty, even though there are countless studies that demonstrate the link between income and test scores.
Think of how stupid this line is.
Imagine someone criticizing heavy launch vehicles, castigating those who believe that “chemicals alone” can overcome the effects of gravity, even though there are countless studies that demonstrate the link between gravity and crashing to earth.
Imagine someone criticizing vaccination, castigating those who believe that “medicines alone” can overcome the effects of malnutrition, even though there are countless studies that demonstrate the link between malnutrition and mortality.
Imagine someone criticizing civil engineering, castigating those who believe that “better on ramps alone” can overcome the effects of traffic, even though there are countless studies that demonstrate the link between driving and danger.
Identifying the single largest influence in a system may be a useful trick for historians. This allows them to reduce a complicated reality to a simple narrative, which they can then tell to others. This is a historian’s craft, and it’s fine, as long as one realizes that all history is the process of simplified deception.
Science is the process of “predicting, controlling, and improving” variation in a system. In science, unlike history, one does not simply take the largest contributing factor and write a narrative around it. Instead, one seeks to understand what the most efficacious ways of changing variation in a system is.
Ravitch‘s use of scare quotes around “alone” may be meant to mock scientists, but it ends up mocking herself.
Whether or not teaches “alone,” or heavy-lift chemicals “alone,” or vaccinations “alone” is irrelevant. Ravitch, in the same article, continues her irrelevant, worthless, straw-man attack
The movie asserts a central thesis in todayâ€™s school reform discussion: the idea that teachers are the most important factor determining student achievement
Again, think of how stupid this line is.
Imagine someone saying the central thesis in today’s aeronautics community is the idea that heavy lift chemicals are the most important factor in determing an objects moments.
Imagine someone saying the central thesis of the medical community is that vaccinations are the most important facotr in determining someone’s health.
Imagine someone saying the central thesis of the civil engineering is that on-ramps are the most important factor in determining the safety of a commute.
We are fortunate there is a biparistan consensus to ignore hacks like Diane Ravitch, and instead use scientific methods to improve our failing public schools. I am grateful to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama for pushing science-based school reform, instead of falling under the pseudoscientific haze that envelops Diane Ravitch and her provincial allies.